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Perusing local shops can yield fun and unexpected surprises. (Kate Kassian / Special to Agweek)

What small towns do so well

"What do travelers expect to gain from visiting a small town? What do they want, look for etc.? Why do they choose a small town over larger destinations?"

These questions came from Tom and Kristie, who recently started the travel blog, "Small Town Plus Size," to share their super-sized back-roads adventures through social media. They wanted to know if others shared their reasons for choosing roads less traveled, and asked us what prompts people to leave the interstates and major cities behind in favor of small towns and two-lane highways.

And here's our answer: Whether it's to live there permanently, or a stop on a road trip or staycation, people want the "small town treatment." We want something different, something special ... we want connections. And that's something small towns just do better.

Like this:

(Ring ... ring ...)

"Hello?"

"Hi! This is Shirley from XYZ telephone in Katyville. Your neighbors heard you're up in 'town' for a few days and asked for your cell number so you can pick up some things for them. I wouldn't give out your number, so I have their list. Got a pencil?"

True story! Just happened a couple of weeks ago.

OK, that may be a little extreme. But still — most people who visit or move to small towns are looking for something "different." They're tired of cookie-cutter experiences found in large population centers, where the names change but the routine stays pretty much the same.

That's not true of small towns. People actually smile, say "Hi!" and make chi- chat at the local restaurant. Or right on the sidewalks (or in the post office lobby when the weather is bad.) And they don't even have to know you to start the conversation! In small towns, we make connections.

Simply for the asking, locals will tell you the best places to see and things to do. They rarely give bad advice because it's their reputation — and often livelihood — on the line.

Even shopping can be an adventure—like a scavenger hunt, but in a good way. Like the business supply store in Wray, Colo., which offers books, clothing—you can even rent a tuxedo there!—and local gifts. (And, of course, office supplies.)

And small-town hotels are a bit like staying at grandma's house. They're cozier than their city counterparts, and the proprietors are far more likely to bend over backward for you. They make you feel welcome, and always invite you back. At the little Sunset Motel in Belle Fourche S.D., the proprietors invited us to join them on the lawn and offered to "burn steaks" for us on the barbecue. And they've got a quaint little coffee bar to boot!

Plus, there's no better place to get a history lesson than a small town — every local knows something you'll never get from the guidebook. One old-timer knew about the Washburn Caves and told us stories about working for the old Civil War veteran who lived in them. Or the time Bonnie and Clyde briefly hid out in the Cope Grove. Legend or fact? A great way to pass the time, regardless.

Oh, and one more thing. If you stop to enjoy it, you can find quiet. A peacefulness that allows a body to sit and ponder, in no hurry to do something or be somewhere. To relax and enjoy the scenery, or the sunset, or both.

Big cities do have their appeal. But if you want to live or visit somewhere truly special, get off the interstate. Small towns do it right.